Despite having few memorable on-screen roles, stage and screen actress Tallulah Bankhead has gone down in history as one of the most notable female figures in entertainment. This is due as much to the actress’s great success in the field as it is to her promiscuous and progressive attitudes towards sex and libation. Join Facts Verse as we explore Tallulah Bankhead’s life filled with affairs and drugs.
Tallulah Bankhead was born on January 31, 1902. She was born in Huntsville, Alabama, and came from a family with prominent political ties in the area. Her grandfather was a US Senator for the state, and so was her uncle. Later on, Tallulah’s father would serve as both a US Representative and a Speaker of the House.
Tallulah’s mother and father were Ada and William Bankhead. Tallulah was their second child, with their first child being Eugenia, who was born on January 24, 1901. A year later, Tallulah was born. Tragically, Ada passed away only three weeks after Tallulah’s birth. The cause of death was blood poisoning, and William was devastated.
Given that William was busy practicing law, he sent Eugenia and Tallulah to live with his parents in Jasper, Alabama. The two girls also spent a lot of time staying over at their aunt’s home in Montgomery. Eugenia was always the more attractive of the two growing up, which caused Tallulah to have to seek attention in other ways. Thankfully, the bright and energetic young girl was quite capable of finding ways besides her looks to garner attention from those around her.
Tallulah and Eugenia sent to a convent school by their grandmother when they were young. Their grandmother believed that doing so was necessary in order to teach the girls proper manners. The two girls enrolled in the Convent of the Sacred Heart in 1912. This school was located in Manhattanville, New York, and attending the school proved a massive change for the two sisters.
Despite their initial resistance to the program, Tallulah and Eugenia’s grandmother astonished when the two girls began acting like proper young ladies. Around the same time, William was gaining attention with his political career. And his success allowed the girls to stay in prestigious schools throughout the rest of their education.
Though Tallulah had never been the most attractive young girl, this began changing as she went through puberty. By the age of 15, Tallulah was just as attractive as her sister. However, she had a much more restless spirit. While 16-year-old Eugenia was making plans to get married, Tallulah submitted a picture of her self to the magazine Picture Play after they put on a contest to find an unknown actress to play a bit part in a film in New York.
Unsurprisingly, Tallulah’s picture stood out. However, the young woman had forgotten to include her name and address! Thankfully, the magazine printed her picture in the next issue, with the caption “Who Is She?” Tallulah subsequently used her father’s connections to get in touch with the magazine, and the rest is history!
William was initially hesitant to allow Tallulah to venture off to New York. But was willing to compromise if Tallulah brought her aunt along as a chaperone. Tallulah’s wealthy grandfather agreed to pay for the trip, which wound up lasting a great deal longer than expected!
Tallulah paid only $75 for the bit part that she won, though it required three weeks of work for the young actress. As well, she was barely in it. The 1918 film silent feature Who Loved Him Best, and would likely not be remembered if not for the fact that it was Tallulah’s screen debut. After filming was over, Tallulah and her aunt decided to stay in New York. Tallulah had caught the acting bug, and she was interested in finding bigger and better roles.
Tallulah and her aunt settled into the Algonquin Hotel, where Tallulah gradually began to fit right in with the cultural elite of New York. While Tallulah was making a name for herself on the New York social scene. Her father was able to use some of his connections to secure her a role on stage. This was in the 1918 theater production The Squab Farm. Tallulah decided that she liked the acting on the stage a great deal more than she liked acting in front of a camera, and set her sights on a career in theater. It was in theater that the actress went on to find most of her success.
When Tallulah turned 18, she no longer needed to chaperoned by her aunt. Tallulah had already become fairly immersed in the New York party scene. And her new freedom allowed her to venture even deeper. Though she had made a promise to her father to never touch alcohol, she had never promised him not to touch marijuana and cocaine.
Tallulah experimented for several years on the New York party scene. All the while finding only middling success on the stage. Eventually, she grew desperate and decided to seek out the aid of a psychic, who told her that her future success lied overseas. By seeming coincidence, Tallulah was subsequently offered a role on stage in London. Believing it to be a sign, Tallulah took the job. If you’re enjoying this video so far, be sure to hit the like button to show your support! As well, subscribe to the channel if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!
As it turns out, the psychic that told Tallulah Bankhead that her future success lied overseas was right. The play that brought Tallulah to London was The Dancers. And both Tallulah and the play became a major hit upon their debut. Tallulah’s unprecedented success in The Dancers opened up several doors. And lead to an eight-year-long London period that saw Tallulah performing in hit after hit. Tallulah loved the fame, and was grateful to her audience. She wasn’t above befriending her fans, and even invited some of them over to her house for dinner… and to have sex.
You see, in addition to a taste for mind-altering substances, Tallulah had also grown to have a bit of an insatiable appetite for sex. For the time, this kind of attitude considered to be fairly unbecoming of a woman. But Tallulah was so sex-crazed that she simply couldn’t be bothered to care. She preferred her sex impersonal, and claimed that performing in the missionary position made her feel claustrophobic. She dabbled in countless affairs with seemingly anyone that asked, considering sexual forwardness as a favorable old-fashioned value in a man.
By the end of the 1920s, Tallulah had essentially become an honorary icon in England for her work on the London stage. However, this recognition on the stage didn’t quite lead to riches that were capable of sustaining Tallulah’s increasingly ludicrous spending habits. In 1930, Tallulah invited back overseas by Paramount Studios with the offer of a lucrative film deal. Wanting the money, Tallulah took the offer. However, she has since claimed that the real reason she came back to America was to have sex with Gary Cooper, which she eventually did. She reluctantly bid farewell to her London life and set sail back to New York in 1931.
Though Paramount Studios was based out of California, they had offices in New York that allowed Tallulah to stay there for the time being. Tallulah’s first film back in America the 1931’s Tarnished Lady. Tallulah had not impressed with her experience filming, and audiences were not impressed with the result. Tallulah didn’t have the patience for cinema, and preferred the spontaneity and fast-paced nature of theatrical performance. She headed from New York to California and performed in several more films with dwindling success. She garnered negative attention from her largely conservative fellows in Hollywood with frank talk about sex, and reminisced about London.
After 1932’s Faithless, Tallulah decided to call it quits with Paramount for the time being. She headed back to New York with the intention of going back to the stage. But became diagnosed with a life-threatening case of gonorrhea soon after her arrival. This caused Tallulah to have to undergo an emergency hysterectomy, resulting a several-month period of recovery. Eventually, Tallulah ventured back to London, believing that New York had brought her bad luck.
Sadly, London didn’t seem to bring Tallulah much better luck than New York. She have given a role in the play Dark Victory, but the play bombed. Subsequently, she performed in a number of productions that were all minor failures in one way or another. Simultaneously, Tallulah was sinking deeper and deeper into substance abuse due to the pain she was experiencing from her hysterectomy. As well, she had long since given up on the promise to her father to stay away from alcohol. She spent most of her days mixing pills and booze, something that doctors don’t recommend.
Tallulah eventually came back to Hollywood, unsuccessfully campaigning for the role of Scarlett O’Hara in the 1939 film adaptation of Gone with the Wind. Even with her father’s increasingly powerful political connections, Tallulah couldn’t get the role. However, she did achieve her greatest success ever on the screen several years later, acting in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic 1944 thriller Lifeboat.
In 1937, Tallulah married her first and only husband, fellow stage actor John Emery. Most speculated that the marriage had only done to benefit the public image of Tallulah’s father, who was gaining political traction and desperately wanting for his daughter to straighten up. Regardless of this, Tallulah and John ended up divorcing only four years later, in 1941. Tallulah never married again.
As Tallulah got older, she became more and more intent on living a crazy lifestyle. She got a breast augmentation, and loved to flaunt her aging body and sexuality as much as possible. She also never turned her back on her true partner, mind-altering substances. In December of 1968, Tallulah contracted the Asian flu and subsequently developed pneumonia. She died several days later, at the age of 66. Infamously, her last words reported to have been a request for more codeine and bourbon.
Tallulah Bankhead performed in many roles over the course of her career, though she is best remembered simply as herself. Comment down below to share how you best remember Tallulah, or if you’re surprised to learn about the radical lifestyle that she openly chose to lead. As always, like this video to show your support, and subscribe and hit the notification bell if you’d like to be among the first to know when more Facts Verse videos are on their way!